February 25, 2004

Cornell, Ithaca Give Help With Housing Decisions

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Many students find daunting the prospect of looking for their first apartment, as they are asked to sign legal documents committing themselves and their bank accounts to clauses they may not even understand.

In an effort to help Cornellians facing the decisions involved in off-campus living, several students are taking action to promote education about the process.

Student-elected trustee Jackie Koppell ’05 said that after serving on the Student Assembly Residential and Community Life Committee, she and several other students decided that more research on Collegetown renting was needed to decide how best to help students.

“The idea behind this is to ultimately change the standard of living in Collegetown since we have no real say in the cost of living. We have and continue to do research into various properties in Collegetown in the buildings department in City Hall. In addition, we are asking students their opinions of their current housing in the hopes to discover who the bad and good landlords are and which properties are the best and worst to live in,” she said.

According to Koppell, “Currently, a large number of the properties in Collegetown are run down. Some receive numerous violations and others remain in terrible condition without being inspected because the building department for the city is overwhelmed. When students arrive each year, many sign leases knowing little to no information about the true condition of the house or the reputation of the landlord. We hope to change that.”

The City of Ithaca offers several resources for renters interested in learning more about the renting process. The city’s website offers information on city laws regarding renters and landlords, and the City Rental Housing Advisory Commission, which serves to advise the Common Council on issues regarding rental housing in Ithaca.

Cornell also has a number of services through Campus Life. The Off-Campus Housing Program in Robert Purcell Community Center advises students on searching for their housing, signing a lease and being a good neighbor and tenant.

According to Pam Zinder, interim manager of housing and dining contracts, the office does a number of things including lease reviews, offering listings for properties and advising students on issues of concern.

“We advise [students] on the course of action,” Zinder said.

Zinder said that one of the most important things for students to remember when looking for housing is to do research, including reading the lease and “talking to current tenants.”

Koppell also advised students to do their research before committing to a lease.

“Students should know their rights before they sign a lease,” she said. “Have the office of off-campus housing or someone who knows about contracts look at the lease before signing. In addition, let me emphasize that there is no reason that students should have to return to school and sign a lease within a week, as many students currently do. Students would do themselves a service and prevent future problems by doing a little research into their rights as a tenant, the property and the landlord they may be interested in.”

Mike Rosenberg ’04 said that he wishes he had been better educated when he signed his first lease as a junior.

“The first time we had to seek off-campus housing was in preparation for our junior year. Hearing rumors from many upperclassmen that all the good housing is gone by December, we felt pressured to get our five-person group together as early as October to seek an affordable and attractive apartment in Collegetown,” he said.

According to Rosenberg, “That year, the place was a dump and the landlord was incredibly irresponsible in fixing broken items or dealing with disputes with the tenants in the building’s other apartment. In the end, he actually tried to keep most of our security deposit, due to cleaning fees and a claim that the war in Iraq had increased utility prices.”

Rosenberg said, however, that he did learn from his experiences in leasing an apartment.

“We were able to make a much more careful selection in housing this year. The lease was simpler, I felt less rushed, the house is beautiful and the landlord is incredibly responsible. I’ll never make the mistake of rushing into housing again.”

Rosenberg said he wishes that he and his friends had been more aware of the process of acquiring housing in Collegetown.

“With a general educative effort, people won’t feel that they have to move so hastily,” he said.

Archived article by Kate Cooper